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Videogame for social change

Despite social progress, portrayal of women in media still follows old platitudes that subject audiences to rampant negativity. One particular culprit—the prized videogame—has enough popularity to infuse positive ideas in the cultural mainstream, but does exactly the opposite. Whatever their format, videogames tend to display women as unsubstantial characters with inhuman posture and outrageous bodies in absurd attire.

Female protagonists in videogames lose any implied leadership in the clout of this banal representation. While these women exist in a fictional world, their impact crosses into one that is real—and the effect is often damaging to the people on the receiving end of these unrealistic depictions of women. So how are people exposed to negative video imagery? One way is by performing a basic search in the game libraries of interactive gadgets, a simple act that can expose viewers to untamed images of fantastical women. This is the case in many videogames, even though makers supposedly follow a rating system that includes M and E classifications.

The most troublesome aspect of this perverse video culture is that it highlights promiscuity and materialism in a way that adversely affects the psychological development of children and adolescents. Although such aftereffect may be unintentional, it still engineers considerable and long-term assault in the public psyche. Unsurprisingly, many women who play videogames find that their hobby reinforces or ignites body image issues. In the interim, players of various ages absorb the subliminal images of women as no more than sexual objects.

Aware if this growing problem in our society, Blair Kuhlman and I have developed an interactive exhibition that employs motion control technology to engage audiences in a conscious exploitation of the female body. During the show players respond to prompts that force them into awkward and uncomfortable poses to please the virtual audience judging their performance. Players who endure the contortions with difficulty or reluctance, receive a negative response from their virtual judges. Naturally the idea behind our concept is to put audiences in a position that pressures them to conform to unnatural ideals of beauty and physical expression. With this installation, we hope to provide a space that triggers awareness in a wide range of participants, including:

  • people who pressure others to fulfill unhealthy body ideals;

  • people who succumb to the pressure of fulfilling the body ideal; and

  • people who endure the double burden of embodying and instigating the body ideal.

We want to present this installation in a group setting with other artists mutually concerned with how art and media can impact conscientiousness and transform behavior—particularly toward women. The University Art Gallery at UCSD comes to mind as an ideal place to share our work. However, before we can achieve this goal, we must find sponsors to support our work. (Indeed artists need capital to create art, and this is where supporters enjoy boundless opportunity to display monetary prowess.)

Blair and I use videogame as a media platform to provoke awareness and reflection throughout audiences. We hope to inspire responsibility—and empathy—in the people who create and sustain the videogame industry. We believe that entertainment is important, but it should not abuse women to further compromise social health. When people grow attached to videogames that trivialize women, they internalize the belief and develop a false understanding of women. This is tragic, because it forces people to view fictional women as correct, and real women as odd. Videogames are not the only player in the coercive game of misrepresentation, but they do affect a cultural dynamic against women.

Amanda Dittami prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.